Sheldon schools eliminate mask mandate

Sheldon superintendent Cory Myer speaks during the board of education meeting Wednesday, April 14, as board vice president Susan Rensink listens. The board voted 3-2 to make masks optional to wear in the district.

SHELDON—Wearing masks in the Sheldon School District facilities is optional but not mandated following the board of education’s 3-2 vote Wednesday, April 14, to eliminate the mask policy that’s been in place since October.

The board first heard updates regarding the status of COVID-19 cases in the district from superintendent Cory Myer. He referenced data showing one student in the district was positive at the time of the meeting and six others were quarantining.

Myer spoke of communication he has had with the O’Brien County Public Health Office, which continued to recommend school districts keep mask policies in place. The decision for preserving such a policy is ultimately up to the districts though.

The public health office also recommends continuing to contact trace and quarantine people in instances of COVID-19 exposure, although that likewise is up to the schools. Myer mentioned a conversation he had with school nurse Dawn Meyer, who wanted the district to continue having students quarantine if they are exposed to the virus at home.

“She thought that was a risk that she would prefer to just quarantine those kids, which is what we’re doing,” Myer said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for quite some time. Since the mask policy went into place, that’s the one group that has been quarantined the whole time.”

Board member Steve Waldstein asked what other school districts in the county have been doing when it comes to mask policies. Myer said the Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn School District does not have a mask policy but the South O’Brien School District does.

He also said school districts in the Siouxland Conference are split on the topic, with some saying they will continue requiring masks the rest of the academic year and some doing away with mask mandates. The Sioux Center School District, for instance, was the first in the conference to approve a mask mandate this academic year.

Board member Jessica Brink motioned to make wearing masks optional in the district, which board member Lori Richards seconded. Board vice president Susan Rensink voted in support while Waldstein and board president Kecia Hickman voted no.

Since no time element was associated with the measure, it took effect immediately.

Aside from discussing and taking action on the district’s mask policy, the school board held a second reading for a proposed change to board policy regarding use of facilities for extracurricular activities.

The change — which the board approved — added language to the policy that would give the superintendent authority to allow activities or practices to take place even if school is canceled or dismissed early due to inclement weather.

Myer said there are rare occasions in which school has to be delayed in the morning or called off, but by afternoon the road conditions have improved to make afternoon or evening activities safer to attend.

“We’ve had it happen before, like a tournament game comes up and they want to get it in, they don’t have to reschedule that. With our policy, the way it currently was written, that wasn’t feasible,” Myer said. “This recommended change would allow some leeway on the superintendent’s part to be able to allow those if we felt weather was safe for that to happen or not.”

He said there have been instances in the past in which activities director Eric Maassen has asked Myer if practices could still be held in such situations and Myer gave permission. The policy change would give Myer authority to do that on paper.

Waldstein asked when Myer normally makes the call in the morning to cancel school on mornings in which there already is a two-hour late start.

Myer said he usually tries to make the call by 6 a.m. but noted there are times in which the weather may worsen later in the morning, meaning he must make the decision after that time. On the other hand, the times for dismissing classes early due to inclement weather later in the day can vary depending on when the weather becomes bad.

Waldstein asked if Myer knew how many times he had refused Maassen’s requests for special permission to have practices in cases of early dismissal.

Myer said he did not know, although Maassen added he has not asked Myer for such permission often.

Maassen said he more of­­ten than not asks permission for coaches to briefly touch base with their athletes upcoming games.